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Stress and Digestion Part 2-When Stress Takes Over

Stress and Your Digestive System

boxer and punching bag by Flickr user Boston Public Library

Stress sends your body into "fight or flight" mode

Any stress you experience, be it physical or emotional, activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers production of adrenal hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, that prepare your body to deal with the stress. This is often called the “fight or flight” response because, metabolically, the body becomes primed for one of two physical reactions: to run or to fight. Under the control of cortisol, adrenaline and the sympathetic nervous system, the body’s focus shifts from maintenance mode to emergency preparedness. This shift causes a number of effects on the digestive system:

• Secretions are reduced, including saliva, digestive enzymes and protective mucus

• Blood is shunted from the digestive organs to the skeletal muscles, reducing nutrient exchange

• Nutrient absorption is diminished

• Muscular contractions in the intestines become irregular and can create cramping, constipation or diarrhea

• Sphincters close, inhibiting normal movement of food through the tract

• Peristalsis slows, allowing toxins to remain longer in the colon and harmful bacteria to multiply and crowd out the beneficial bacteria normally present in the gut

• Over time the lining of the stomach and intestines can become thin and damaged, creating an environment that allows more toxins to be absorbed into the body

• Immunity in the digestive tract is impaired with these changes

When 21st Century Stress Takes Over

Throughout human evolution, adrenal hormones and the sympathetic nervous system have suppressed digestive function during the stress response. Historically, the digestive system handled these fluctuations with relative ease. Now, though, stress-related digestive disorders like nervous stomach, constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel and ulcers have become all too common. The stress response is the same as it has always been, but 21st century stress is dramatically different.

face as shattered glass by Flickr user AmateurArtGuy

Does stress leave you feeling like this?

Your stress response is designed to prepare you to physically deal with stress (running from a lion, for example), and the physical exertion helps dissipate stress hormones, quickly moving your body back into balance. However, modern stressors rarely require a physical response, and they tend to last longer and be more pervasive. For example, difficult relationships, unemployment, unsatisfying work, debts and mortgages affect your daily life and may last for months or years. Because you cannot fight with a loan or outrun a job, your stress hormones are not easily dissipated, and because the stressors do not go away, your brain keeps signaling your adrenals to make cortisol. As a result, digestion continues to be curtailed, with unhealthy consequences. To make matters worse, it is easy to disregard healthy habits when stressed. You may find yourself downing caffeine to keep going or drinking alcohol to calm down, both of which can damage your digestive tract lining even more. Sugary comfort foods contain very few nutrients, and sugar actually robs your body of B vitamins and other nutrients, pushing your nutritional status even lower. Routinely working through lunch or eating on the run does not give your parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxation response) a chance to even become activated!

If your adrenals fatigue from prolonged stress, digestion can suffer at the same time that food cravings increase because of low blood sugar, and digestive tract inflammation flares from the combined effects of slower digestion and decreased anti-inflammatory activity by cortisol.

Continue to part 3 – Rescuing Your Digestive System

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Stress and Digestion Part 1-Digestion and the Nervous System

Healthy Digestive Function

A healthy digestive system has a number of functions:

1. To break down food into small nutritional components that provide the vitamins, minerals, proteins, water and energy needed to maintain health.

2. To collect toxins, dead cells and other debris, and eliminate them from the body.

3. To act as a site for front-line immune defense.

During digestion, digestive enzymes, acids and other chemicals mix with food in the mouth, stomach and intestines to break down the food and extract nutrients. The intestinal wall acts as a filter, keeping toxins and debris inside and moving toward elimination while allowing the smaller nutrients to pass freely through the wall to enter the bloodstream. Once inside the blood, the nutrients are carried to all the tissues of the body that need them.

a colorized diagram of the digestive systemBecause digestive chemicals are very caustic and the specialized function of the digestive wall is so important, the linings of this wall are continually replenished to maintain its integrity. In fact, this is one of the areas of fastest cell turnover in the body. The degree of integrity of this wall has an impact on overall health, as well as the health of the digestive system because it affects the availability of energy and nutrients to cells throughout the body. Just as important are the quantity of digestive chemicals secreted, the length of time it takes the contents of digestion to move through the tract, the balance of intestinal bacteria, and the vigor of intestinal immune function. Stress modifies all of these aspects of your digestive system through the combined actions of your nervous system and adrenal hormones. To understand how this happens, it helps to first understand a little about how the nervous system affects the digestive system and what changes occur during the stress response.

Digestion and the Nervous System

nervous system by Flickr user cori kindredDigestive system function is regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The purpose of the ANS is to control a vast array of life-sustaining activities in the body without requiring conscious thought. Imagine how exhausting it would be to have to remember to instruct your stomach to empty or to remind your mouth to secrete saliva. The ANS is subdivided into three main parts: 1. the enteric, 2. the sympathetic and 3. the parasympathetic nervous systems.

1. The enteric branch manages every aspect of digestion. It is sometimes referred to as the “second brain” or “gut brain” because in addition to innervating the smooth muscles, glands and organs of the digestive system, it produces neurotransmitters (brain messenger chemicals) in the gut that can influence cognition and mood as well as digestive function. It works independently and also interacts with the rest of the ANS to regulate the digestive system and modulate digestive function during stress.

2. The sympathetic branch responds to stress and mobilizes the body for a physical reaction, generally inhibiting digestion so that more resources are available to the brain, heart and muscles.

3. The parasympathetic branch is responsible for maintenance, repair, restoration, relaxation and digestion. The phrase “rest and digest” is sometimes used to describe what it does. Under the control of the parasympathetic nervous system, the following processes of digestion are supported:

digestion path by Flickr user return the sunSaliva and digestive enzymes are secreted to break down food

• Food travels through the tract at the optimal pace for nutrients to be absorbed

• Muscular contractions in the intestines are smooth and regular

• Sphincters are opened to allow normal passage of food through the gut

• A special type of mucus is continually secreted over the inner walls of the stomach and intestines to protect them against caustic digestive chemicals

• The lining of the tract is maintained and repaired regularly

• Blood flows through the digestive organs to receive nutrients from food and to bring oxygen from the lungs

• Beneficial bacteria grow, supported by a balanced intestinal environment

• The immune cells in the digestive tract protect the body and the tissues of the digestive system against infection

Continue to part 2 – When Stress Takes Over

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Stress and Nutrition: Avoiding 3 Common Dietary Pitfalls-Part 3

When you’re under stress, do you fall prey to one of three common dietary pitfalls: skipping meals because you feel like you don’t have time to eat; succumbing to cravings for sugar or fat; or relying on caffeine to try and rev your system? If so, you’re not alone. It’s easy to give in to poor nutritional choices when you’re fatigued and under stress. Unfortunately, although they may feel like a quick fix, these behaviors can create more problems in the long run. In the third of this three part series, I help you identify another pitfall – the overconsumption of caffeine, understand the effects this has on your health and your body’s ability to handle stress, and offer tools you can use to correct this habit.

Pitfall 3 – Relying on caffeine to push you through your day

The problem with doing this:

coffee beans

Image credit: Flickr user eyeore2710

It’s tempting to rely on caffeine for energy when life is hectic. Trying to balance work, family and personal needs, it’s easy to spread yourself too thin and push to increase the momentum when you should actually rest. If you are experiencing adrenal fatigue, it can be even more difficult to refrain from using something that will give you an energy boost. However, a dependence on caffeine can worsen stress and adrenal fatigue rather than improve the situation.

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. (Incidentally, it’s also a natural pesticide found on some plants that paralyzes or kills the critters that try to make the plant dinner.) Under the influence of caffeine, the adrenals – two glands that help orchestrate the body’s stress response system – secrete the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones initiate the fight or flight response, a widespread metabolic shift that prepares your body to deal with a physical stressor. This response increases breathing rate, heart rate, and drives blood and nutrients into your muscles. Although caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands to produce more of these hormones, it does nothing to support or nourish the glands. Pushing fatigued adrenals with caffeine is like flooring the gas pedal on a car that is running on empty. If you don’t replenish the gas, the car will go faster for a short period of time, but will run out of gas more quickly. Driving fatigued adrenals with artificial stimulants pushes them further into exhaustion faster. Eventually, they may not be able to respond to even an average demand for hormones.

The solution: 

Don’t rely on caffeine to get you through the day. Even though it may be helpful in endurance sports or to stay alert, attempting to buoy fatigued adrenals with it is actually counter-productive. If you are currently hooked on caffeine, cut down on the amount you are consuming a little at a time and try substituting green tea or yerba matte for your coffee or energy drinks. These drinks contain smaller amounts of caffeine and increased amounts of antioxidants that support your body in times of stress. Licorice tea is another great choice. Licorice actually helps maintain cortisol in your body so you get more benefit from the cortisol your adrenals secrete.6 (Most licorice candy is full of sugar and is actually sweetened with anise rather than licorice, so it’s not an effective substitute.) If you choose to wean yourself off of caffeine entirely, be prepared for a few headaches and a little irritability, but both should resolve within a few days.

Now that you’re easing up on the accelerator, add gas to your system. Allow yourself to rest when you’re tired, drink water to stay hydrated, and eat a diet balanced with lean protein sources, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. To support the adrenals, include foods rich in vitamin C such as strawberries, peppers and citrus. B vitamins are absolutely essential to energy production. These are found in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, brewer’s yeast and lentils. Minerals like zinc and magnesium support the adrenals, and can found in nuts, seeds and leafy greens.

Non-dietary energy boosters can help, too. After you’ve been sitting still, even a brief period of exercise or stretching increases circulation and provides nutrients to your brain, revitalizing you. Add some upbeat music to your playlist and turn it on during your energy lull. Music has been shown to enhance both motivation and physical performance.1,2

If you still need some help after trying these dietary and lifestyle modifications, use supplements that support the adrenals rather than a chemical that drains them. Herbs such as ashwaganda, maca, and eleutherococcus (formerly known as Siberian ginseng) can be extremely helpful. These plants are adaptogens – herbs which help the adrenal glands adapt to stress and support their function. They have been shown to increase mental and physical endurance and reduce fatigue.3,4,5 Licorice, which slows the breakdown of cortisol,6 can also be taken as a supplement or tincture (alcohol extract). A complex of B vitamins in balanced ratios helps support energy production.

When dealing with stress and adrenal fatigue, diet can be your greatest ally or your most formidable foe. By keeping blood sugar stable and replacing caffeine, sugar and unhealthy fats with more nutrient dense choices, you can support your adrenal glands during times of stress. If you already have adrenal fatigue, following these few simple steps can move you miles along the road to recovery.

Read Part 1 on Fat and Sugar Cravings

Read Part 2 on Caffeine Dependance

References

  1. Karageorghis c, Mouzourides DA, Priest DL, Sasso TA, Morrish DJ, Walley CJ. Psychophysical and ergogenic effects of synchronous music during treadmill walking. J Sport Exerc Psychol 2009; 31(1):18-36.
  2. Waterhouse J, Hudson P, Edwards B. Effects of music tempo upon submaximal cycling performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2010;20(4):662-9 Epub 2009 Sep 28.
  3. Panossian A and Wikman G. Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity. Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Sep;4(3):198-219.
  4. Archana R, et al.  Antistressor effect of Withania somnifera. J Ethnopharmacol 1999; 64:91-93.
  5. López-Fando A, Gómez-Serranillos MP, Iglesias I et al. Lepidium peruvianum chacon restores homeostasis impaired by restraint stress. Phytother Res. 2004 Jun;18(6):471-474.
  6. MacKenzie MA, Hoefnagels WH, Jansen RW, Benraad TJ, Kloppenborg PW. The influence of glycyrrhetinic acid on plasma cortisol and cortisone in healthy young volunteers. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1990 Jun;70(6):1637-43.

About the Author

Dr. Lise NaugleDr. Lise Naugle is an associate of Dr. James L. Wilson. She assists healthcare professionals with clinical assessment and treatment protocols related to adrenal dysfunction and stress, and questions regarding the use of Doctor Wilson’s Original Formulations supplements. With eleven years in private practice and a focus on stress, adrenals, hormonal balance and mind-body connection, she offers both clinical astuteness and a wealth of practical knowledge. Dr. Naugle also maintains updated information about the latest scientific research on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, endocrine balance and nutritional support for stress and develops educational materials about stress and health for clinicians and their patients.


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Stress and Nutrition: Avoiding 3 Common Dietary Pitfalls-Part 2

When you’re under stress, do you fall prey to one of three common dietary pitfalls: skipping meals because you feel like you don’t have time to eat; succumbing to cravings for sugar or fat; or relying on caffeine to try and rev your system? If so, you’re not alone. It’s easy to give in to poor nutritional choices when you’re fatigued and under stress. Unfortunately, although they may feel like a quick fix, these behaviors can create more problems in the long run. In the second of this three part series, I help you identify another pitfall: the overconsumption of sugar and fat, understand the effects this has on your health and your body’s ability to handle stress, and offer tools you can use to correct this pitfall.

Pitfall 2 – You succumb to sugar or fat cravings

The problem with doing this:    

sugar overload

Image credit: Flickr user jeffsmallwood

When your body is stressed, your adrenals (two little glands that sit above the kidneys) secrete adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that help your body handle the stress. These hormones break down stored fuel and increase your heart rate, delivering blood and energy to your muscles to prepare you to either fight a stressor or run from it. They also increase metabolism, causing your body to burn through nutrients at an increased rate. When you are under stress, your hormones and body demand fuel, and it is tempting to grab something sugary for a quick energy boost or something fat-laden for more sustained energy. Unfortunately, although it may provide a temporary solution, the gain is short-lived and may actually do more harm in the long run.

Sugary treats such as cookies, candy, and sugar-filled drinks provide very few (if any) nutrients and only simple sugars. Simple sugars are those that are easily broken down and released quickly into the blood stream. Although this may seem like a good solution to your energy slump, it’s not. The problem is that insulin, a hormone that moves sugar into the cells where it can be used, is secreted by the pancreas in response to the rise in blood sugar. If too much sugar enters your bloodstream too rapidly, insulin may overshoot its target, moving the sugar quickly into your cells and out of your bloodstream, leaving you once again with low blood sugar and more sugar cravings.  To make matters worse, the metabolism of sugar for energy requires B vitamins and other nutrients. If these aren’t provided by the food along with the sugar, the sugar actually robs your body of these nutrients.

This doesn’t only happen with obviously sugary foods; white flour, white rice, and other refined grains are also simple sugars. In other words, any type of grain product (breads, cereal, bagels, crackers, pretzels, or pasta) that doesn’t start with the word “whole” on the ingredient list is metabolized exactly like sugar, raising blood sugar and insulin levels rapidly, and then setting you up for a lower drop in blood sugar after. Fruit juice also provides a high quantity of simple sugars without the benefits of fiber, found in the skin and the pulp, to slow the sugar’s release into the blood. With juice it is also easy to ingest more sugar than you realize. Typically you would probably eat one orange for a snack. If you drink a glass of orange juice, you are ingesting the sugar equivalent of approximately 6 oranges!

(For more about the specifics of adrenals and blood sugar regulation, see Pitfall # 1)

Certain fats, or lipids, are essential to life. French fries, ice cream, and croissants are not. Many processed foods are made with partially hydrogenated oils and trans-fatty acids. Hydrogenation is the process of forcing hydrogen atoms onto a lipid. This improves the fats’ shelf life, but gives them an altered structure that is the opposite of what the body naturally uses. Since lipids are required in the formation of the membranes of all cells and in the synthesis of cortisol, this altered structure causes detrimental effects throughout your body, including your stress management system. In addition, these partially hydrogenated fats, as well as saturated fats (found in high concentrations in red meat and whole fat dairy products), also contribute to inflammation and weight gain, triggering chemical messengers that exacerbate fatigue and foggy thinking.

The solution:

Choose complex carbohydrates over simple sugars. Complex carbs are broken down more slowly and their sugar is released into your bloodstream over a longer period of time. Good choices include beans, lentils, whole fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as whole oats, brown rice and quinoa. When choosing fats, select natural sources of healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocados and fish. These foods are high in omega 3 (good) fats, as well as other nutrients. Use additional fats in moderation. Good choices for oils include fresh virgin olive oil, flax seed oil and expeller-pressed canola oil. In addition to complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, incorporate lean protein sources into each meal or snack to stabilize blood sugar and reduce cravings.

Continue to part 3 – Relying on Caffeine to Get Through the Day

About the Author

Dr. Lise NaugleDr. Lise Naugle is an associate of Dr. James L. Wilson. She assists healthcare professionals with clinical assessment and treatment protocols related to adrenal dysfunction and stress, and questions regarding the use of Doctor Wilson’s Original Formulations supplements. With eleven years in private practice and a focus on stress, adrenals, hormonal balance and mind-body connection, she offers both clinical astuteness and a wealth of practical knowledge. Dr. Naugle also maintains updated information about the latest scientific research on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, endocrine balance and nutritional support for stress and develops educational materials about stress and health for clinicians and their patients.

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Stress and Nutrition: Avoiding 3 Common Dietary Pitfalls – Part 1

When you’re under stress, do you fall prey to one of three common dietary pitfalls: skipping meals because you feel like you don’t have time to eat; succumbing to cravings for sugar or fat; or relying on caffeine to try and rev your system? If so, you’re not alone. It’s easy to give in to poor nutritional choices when you’re fatigued and under stress. Unfortunately, although they may feel like a quick fix, these behaviors can create more problems in the long run. In this three part series, I will help you identify the pitfalls, understand the effects they have on your body, and offer tools you can use to correct them.

Pitfall 1 – You skip meals or forget to eat 

The problem with doing this:

Hurry sign

Image credit: Flickr user rockmixer

Low blood sugar is a stress on the body. If you are already experiencing stress and you skip meals, you are actually compounding your stress. It’s the job of the adrenals (two little glands that sit above the kidneys) to support your body during times of stress, including times of low blood sugar. If you have strong adrenal function or your adrenals are only mildly fatigued, you might be able to get away with skipping meals every now and then. However, if your adrenals are fatigued from chronic or severe stress and you continue to make meal skipping a habit, you could be spending more of your energy bank account than you realize.

Cortisol is one of the principal hormones secreted by the adrenals. One of its primary functions is to maintain blood sugar (or glucose) levels. Glucose is the body’s ready source of energy.  When glucose levels drop (as they do several hours after eating), or when your cells require more energy (as in times of stress), the adrenal glands secrete cortisol and the fight or flight hormone, adrenaline. These hormones work to raise your glucose levels by promoting the creation of new glucose from non-carbohydrate sources (like protein) and break down of a storage form of glucose, called glycogen. However, this process is meant to be a temporary, short-term fix; not a substitute for refueling with food. Skipping meals depletes your reserves, and the production of adrenal hormones requires energy and nutrients.

Adrenal fatigue complicates the situation further. When your adrenals are fatigued, it is more difficult for them to produce adequate levels of hormones. Without enough cortisol and adrenaline, your blood sugar remains low, and your brain continues to stimulate the adrenals, trying to make them produce more. The situation is much like beating a tired horse, and it makes it far more difficult for the adrenals to recover.

The Solution:

Although skipping meals is one of the most common dietary pitfalls for people with stressful lives, a little planning may make it the easiest one to avoid. Breakfast is just that – breaking a fast. Eat before 10 am to give your body the fuel it needs and to replenish the energy stores you have depleted while sleeping.  Then eat moderately sized, healthy meals approximately every 3 hours to help stabilize blood sugar throughout the day. Eating a few bites of a healthy snack before bedtime will often help maintain blood sugar and cortisol levels throughout the night and prevent sleep disturbances and panic attacks in the middle of the night. Every meal and snack should include protein (animal or vegetable), complex carbohydrate (whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruit) and a little healthy fat (preferably fresh vegetable, nut or fish oil). Since time is often a factor for people with stressful lives, it can be helpful to prepare things in advance and store them in individual portion sized containers. Also, having quick sources of high quality protein on hand such as protein powders, boiled eggs, single serving tuna, hummus with veggies, and packages of nuts can get you through during a real time crunch.

Many people with adrenal fatigue don’t feel hungry in the morning and even have difficulty eating at that time. This is typically due to one of two reasons: either they ate too much too late the night before, or lowered adrenal function is causing sluggish liver function. If this is true for you, make sure to keep your evening meal(s) small, and consider eating foods which support liver function such as beets, broccoli, and cabbage, and the spice, turmeric. Fiber and live beneficial bacteria, like those found in some yogurts, can support optimal gastrointestinal movement.

Continue to part 2 – Sugar and Fat Cravings

About the Author

Dr. Lise NaugleDr. Lise Naugle is an associate of Dr. James L. Wilson. She assists healthcare professionals with clinical assessment and treatment protocols related to adrenal dysfunction and stress, and questions regarding the use of Doctor Wilson’s Original Formulations supplements. With eleven years in private practice and a focus on stress, adrenals, hormonal balance and mind-body connection, she offers both clinical astuteness and a wealth of practical knowledge. Dr. Naugle also maintains updated information about the latest scientific research on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, endocrine balance and nutritional support for stress and develops educational materials about stress and health for clinicians and their patients.

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Can stress lead to autoimmune conditions? The stress and autoimmunity link

Where are all these immune problems coming from?

woman sick in bedWhere are all these immune problems coming from? Apart from a whole bunch of other minor reasons, I would put an increasingly poor immunity down to two basic things: 1) Stress (we do, expect and stress far too much) and 2) Toxins in our everyday lives. There are many other potential causes, but stress and toxins appear to be two of the largest triggers.

The problem with these two big potential causes is that the patient’s stress responses (generally adrenal gland depletion) are not recognized or treated in a medical setting, and toxins are rarely if ever considered to be an issue as a contributing factor in the development of any chronic disease, including conditions such as autoimmunity.

The stress/autoimmune connection

The best evidence so far for stress’s effect on autoimmune thyroid disease is the well-known relationship between the onset of Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism) and a major stress in a person’s life. Most of the recent case-control studies have supported stress as a factor in the onset and clinical course of Graves’ disease. Because the onset and course of autoimmunity is generally inconspicuous, the effect of stress is often overlooked.

Numerous studies on animals and humans have shown that psychological and physiologic stressors induce various immune changes. Stress can affect the immune system directly or indirectly through the nervous and hormone systems. It is quite important for practitioners to take his or her time and look at each case “longitudinally,” i.e. looking at past life events to see how stress could have affected your health over the years, as well as the turning or defining points along the way which preceded the breakdown in health.

How can stress eventually cause an auto-immune condition? Stress causes a burden on adrenal function, which results in the body’s inability to counter inflammation through poor cortisol levels—your body’s own powerful steroid. In autoimmune reactions, white blood cells attack parts of your body as if they were the enemy, and in most autoimmune reactions the cortisol levels your body produces are inadequate for the degree of reaction taking place in the particular tissues of your body. This is exactly one of the reasons why strong corticosteroids (Prednisolone, Prednisone, etc.) are prescribed for all diseases involving a very strong inflammatory process, particularly autoimmune diseases. Doctors and patients alike love it—there’s almost an instant relief. It does feel great at first, but there are consequences.

But the blood tests say nothing is wrong …

test tubes with different colored fluidsIt is apparent that most people who suffer from autoimmunity issues have multiple hormone imbalances, yet the blood tests will most often say there is nothing wrong with the glands involved, namely the adrenal glands and thyroid. The recovery process can be long for some. With proper treatment, many patients will find some improvement in their adrenal health in a matter of weeks. For some it can take months.  Recovery time depends on several factors, including one’s motivation to improve health, the degree of pre-existing damage, as well as the clinical skills of their health professional.

Even in the best of hands, the process can take anywhere between 2 months to 3 years. Please bear in mind that autoimmunity is a long marathon and recovery should not be expected to be easy. You will not wake up in a week and feel like nothing happened, as ideal as this would be. Remember: it probably took a few years to get to this point in the first place. The key is to pace yourself and work on your overall health in small steps, making gradual progress over time. Frustration and disappointments are unfortunately part and parcel of this process, so don’t beat yourself up! Stay patient and remember that most, if not all, will experience ups and downs during recovery.

About the Author

Dr. Eric BakkerEric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 25 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida yeast infections, as well as adrenal fatigue, and thyroid disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. Website:  candidacrusher.com  You can complete his online survey to determine if you have a yeast infection here, or link through to his many You Tube videos: www.yeastinfection.org  Dr. Bakker’s Blog:  www.ericbakker.com

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Cold Weather + Physical Stress = Immune Challenges

Cold Weather + Physical Stress = Immune Challenges

woman jogging in snow by Flickr user Janos BalazsCold weather puts stress on the body, which can lead to various metabolic changes, including suppression of immune function. Even a brief exposure to cold results in increased levels of stress hormones and a number of changes in the immune response. However, by either choice or necessity, many people find themselves not only exposed to winter cold, but having to exercise or do physical labor in cold temperatures, escalating the stress on their bodies.  Researchers at the University of Houston reviewed the available literature to examine the effects on the immune system of cold stress combined with physical exertion. In their review, they found that cold and exertion can increase the secretion of stress hormones, compound immune suppression, and may potentially put people at increased risk for colds, flus, and other infections.

The human body adapts to cold weather by stimulation of:

-The sympathetic (fight or flight stress response) aspect of the nervous system
-The organs involved in the stress response
-Portions of the brain known as the hypothalamus and pituitary, which regulate the stress response
-The adrenal glands, which secrete hormones such as norepinephrine and cortisol that influence stress responses throughout the body

man shoveling snow by Flickr user chrispknightThis stimulation causes a number of physiological adjustments to maintain body temperature: shivering to create heat, constriction of small blood vessels near the body’s surface to prevent heat loss, and increased metabolism to generate heat. This same stimulation also causes changes in the immune system. In general, these physiologic adaptations and immune alterations increase as the temperature decreases or the amount of exertion increases.

Such alterations to the immune system result in a decrease in the activity of natural killer cells, which are crucial to preventing the replication of viral-infected and cancerous cells. Natural killer cells are also responsible for the release of chemicals called cytokines that orchestrate additional immune responses. Cold temperatures and the stress response also cause a decrease in the ability of specific immune cells, called T-cells, to reproduce in response to a foreign invader. Cold and stress can also reduce levels of immune factors in saliva (salivary IgA) that play an essential role in immunological defense of the nose, mouth, and upper respiratory system.

The researchers did find that, over time, the body can learn to adapt to some degree of physical exertion in cold weather. Athletes who regularly worked out in the cold secreted less cortisol and had fewer immune alterations than athletes who were not acclimated to the temperature.

If you live in a place where the winters are cold, and especially if you are required to perform physical labor or exercise outside, acclimatize slowly by gradually increasing your exposure to the cold and the intensity of your exertion, and be sure to provide extra support to your immune and adrenal systems during the cold winter months.

About the Author

Dr. Lise NaugleDr. Lise Naugle is an associate of Dr. James L. Wilson. She assists healthcare professionals with clinical assessment and treatment protocols related to adrenal dysfunction and stress, and questions regarding the use of Doctor Wilson’s Original Formulations supplements. With eleven years in private practice and a focus on stress, adrenals, hormonal balance and mind-body connection, she offers both clinical astuteness and a wealth of practical knowledge. Dr. Naugle also maintains updated information about the latest scientific research on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, endocrine balance and nutritional support for stress and develops educational materials about stress and health for clinicians and their patients.

Image Credit: Jogger in snow by Flickr user János Balázs; man shoveling snow by Flickr user chrispknight

 References

LaVoy EC, McFarlin BK, Simpson RJ. Immune responses to exercising in a cold environment. Wilderness Environ Med. 2011 Dec;22(4):343-51. Epub 2011 Oc 7.

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Weatherproofing Winter Skin – Part 2 of 2

  • Poor Nutrition

junk food by Flickr user mauricesvayThe nutrients you absorb from your food lay the foundation for healthy skin, hair, and nails. In the winter, there tend to be fewer options for fresh fruits and vegetables, which means that people are often eating fewer bioflavonoids, vitamins, antioxidants and other nutrients that support the skin and related structures. In addition, cortisol slows digestion and reduces digestive enzyme output. People with adrenal fatigue or under a great deal of stress often have difficulty digesting their food or absorbing the nutrients. In addition, stress causes the body to consume certain nutrients at a more rapid rate. Nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin C and certain minerals can easily become depleted. Because skin cells turn over in about 2-4 weeks, hair grows at the rate of approximately half an inch per month, and nails at about 1/10 of an inch per month, these tissues show the effects of suboptimal nutrition fairly quickly.

What You Can Do

To promote development of healthy skin, eat fresh, whole foods and avoid sugar and saturated fats. Digestive enzymes and other substances that enhance digestive function and intestinal integrity-such as L-glutamine, phosphatidylcholine, quercetin, slippery elm and ginger- can help with absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Certain nutrients-such as magnesium, manganese, zinc, vitamin C, 5-HTP and choline-support the body’s adrenals under stress.

  • Changes in Circulation

heart by Flickr user brick redIt is not enough to ingest and absorb the right building blocks for the construction of hair, skin, and nails. These must be delivered to the site of these tissues as well. Under stress, hormones involved in the “fight or flight” response prepare the body to react to an emergency by altering metabolism in a way that prepares for rapid muscular responses (such as running or fighting the threat), but somewhat ignores maintenance metabolism (such as digestion and growth). Blood, carrying a rich supply of oxygen and nutrients, gets shunted towards the muscles and away from other tissues, including the hands and feet. In fact, a core component of biofeedback training to combat stress is teaching people to increase blood flow to their extremities.5 In cold weather, blood is also diverted away from the extremities in order to retain body heat. As a result, fewer nutrients are delivered to these tissues.

What You Can Do

To increase circulation, practice some form of cardiovascular exercise daily. It helps dissipate stress hormones and increases circulation throughout the body. Relaxation or biofeedback training can also help you learn to control your blood flow. In addition, keep your extremities and head covered in the cold to retain body heat.

Winter can be tough on skin and bodies already challenged by stress, but with a few simple steps, you can ‘weather the weather’ and keep your skin, hair, nails and adrenals healthier and happier.

Read part 1

 References

  1. Garg, A et al. Psychological stress perturbs epidermal permeability homeostasis: implications for the pathogenesis of stress-associated skin disorders. Arch Dermatol. 2001; 137(1):53-9.
  2. Uchakin PN, et al. Fatigue in medical residents leads to reactivation of herpes virus latency. Interdiscip Perspect Infect Dis. 2011; 2011:571340.
  3. Gaby AR. Natural remedies for Herpes simplex. Altern Med Rev. 2006; 11(2):93-101.
  4. Terezhalmy GT, et al. The use of water-soluble bioflavonoid-ascorbic acid complex in the treatment of recurrent herpes labialis. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol. 1978;45(1):56-62.
  5. Yucha, Carolyn and Doil, Montgomery. Evidence-Based Practice in Biofeedback and Neurofeedback. Wheat Ridge, CO: Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 2008.

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Weatherproofing Winter Skin – Part 1 of 2

Stress or adrenal dysfunction combined with cold winds, dry indoor heat, hot showers and circulating pathogens create a real challenge for your skin, the largest organ in your body. Winter weather is hard enough on anyone’s skin, robbing it of moisture and heat, causing cracks, and affecting its protective barrier ability. When you add stress to winter’s challenges, the damage is amplified.

Image credit: Loony Libberswick

The skin is readily visible, and its health can be a helpful reflection of the condition of organs you can’t see. The skin is made up of two primary layers: the epidermis and dermis. The epidermis is the part you see, and its outermost cells are dead. New cells grow upwards from the bottom and migrate towards the surface in a process that takes almost a month to complete.  The primary job of the epidermis is to form a protective layer against water loss and pathogens. The dermis lies beneath it, acting as a foundation for the epidermis and a cushion for the body structures. It contains nerve endings, blood vessels, hair follicles and sweat glands. It is also where the hair and nails originate, so anything that influences the health of your skin, including stress, also affects your hair and your nails.

Stress and winter weather can impact the skin in several ways:

  1. Barrier Integrity Damage

dry skin by Flickr user MegyarshDuring stress, the adrenals secrete a hormone called cortisol. Synthetic medications designed to mimic cortisol (corticosteroids, such as prednisone or methylprednisolone) reduce the barrier activity and growth of the epidermis, making it thinner and weaker. A study was done to discover whether stress had the same effect on the skin as synthetic coritcosteroids.1 Researchers examined the skin and measured the epidermal barrier function and water loss in the skin of 27 students at three different times: low stress (just after winter break), high stress (during exam week), and another low stress (during spring break). They discovered that the students had more disruption in the epidermal barrier at high stress times. This barrier disruption can result in cracked skin, moisture loss, and a greater opportunity for bacteria to penetrate. Bacteria can activate the immune system and sometimes trigger eczema and psoriasis. Cold weather and excessively hot showers can also damage the barrier.

What You Can Do

To help keep your epidermal barrier strong, take fish oil to support cell structure, use warm rather than hot water in the shower, limit the duration and number of showers,  and apply moisturizer immediately after showering.

  1. Immune Challenges

Cold weather often forces people to spend more time inside, frequently in close proximity to others who may be sick. Besides its direct effects on skin’s growth and barrier function, cortisol also suppresses overall immune function. Scientists studied viral loads in students under stressed and non-stressed conditions and discovered that latent herpes virus is reactivated under stress.2 Reactivation of herpes can result in an outbreak of painful blisters on the skin and mucus membranes.

What You Can Do

To help decrease your chances of a reactivation under stress, get plenty of sleep and avoid the spread of other infectious diseases (such as colds and flus) which require your immune system to go into overdrive. In addition, try nutrients such as vitamin A to support skin integrity, probiotics for immune support and L-lysine—an amino acid that inhibits replication of the virus. Used with vitamin C, bioflavonoids and zinc, lysine can help reduce the frequency and duration of outbreaks.3, 4

Continue to part 2

References

  1. Garg, A et al. Psychological stress perturbs epidermal permeability homeostasis: implications for the pathogenesis of stress-associated skin disorders. Arch Dermatol. 2001; 137(1):53-9.
  2. Uchakin PN, et al. Fatigue in medical residents leads to reactivation of herpes virus latency. Interdiscip Perspect Infect Dis. 2011; 2011:571340.
  3. Gaby AR. Natural remedies for Herpes simplex. Altern Med Rev. 2006; 11(2):93-101.
  4. Terezhalmy GT, et al. The use of water-soluble bioflavonoid-ascorbic acid complex in the treatment of recurrent herpes labialis. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol. 1978;45(1):56-62.
  5. Yucha, Carolyn and Doil, Montgomery. Evidence-Based Practice in Biofeedback and Neurofeedback. Wheat Ridge, CO: Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 2008.

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The Effects of Stress on Hair, Skin and Nails: Part 3

 Nails and Stress

stress and nails by Flickr user theogeoFingernails and toenails are also not immune to the effects of stress. Strong, healthy nails require protein, silica, magnesium, zinc, iron, biotin, and other vitamins and minerals. Because stress makes it more difficult for your body to absorb the nutrients it needs, nail pitting, shredding and ridging frequently flare under stress. As mentioned previously, adrenal fatigue also reduces absorption of nutrients essential to tissue health, making the combination of high stress with adrenal fatigue particularly detrimental to nail health as well. Biotin is a nutrient that is often useful in the treatment of brittle nails, yet cortisol has been shown to cause a loss of biotin from the body. Finally, many people tend to abuse their nails when stressed, resorting to nail biting or repetitive rubbing that can cause mechanical damage to the nail bed.

 A Vicious Cycle of Stress

Stress can aggravate acne, hair loss, brittle nails and other conditions that show in the hair, skin and nails. Because these tissues are so visible to the outside world, having a blemish or anything that adversely alters your appearance can be stressful in and of itself. This stress, as you now know, can induce physiological changes that worsen the condition, further increasing self-consciousness

 Maintaining Healthy Hair, Skin and Nails during Stressful Times

There are a number of things you can do to support the health of your hair, skin, and nails in times of stress:

Reduce the stress

• Change the situation
• Change your response to the situation
• Remove yourself from the situation

Use stress management techniques to help moderate cortisol levels

• Practice yoga, meditation or deep breathing
• Do aerobic exercise
• Take time out for you

Lifestyle changes

cat drinking water from a glass by Flickr user CelloPics

This cool cat knows to stay hydrated. Do you?

•Avoid biting your nails, twisting your hair, scratching or picking your skin, or otherwise taking stress out on your body
•Sleep 8 or more hours a night to allow the tissues to heal and grow
• Eat a healthy diet high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in sugar and hydrogenated oils to support cell membranes
• Chew slowly and eat in a relaxed environment to allow maximum uptake of nutrients
• Eat sufficient protein for growth and repair of tissues
• Drink plenty of water to hydrate skin and flush waste products

 Nutritional support for the hair, skin, nails

• Silica, calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, calcium and biotin support tissue structure
• Gelatin provides building blocks for structural proteins
• Antioxidants (including A,C,E and zinc) fight free radicals
• Nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc, magnesium and manganese support tissue health
• Fish oil provides omega-3 fatty

 Supplemental support for the adrenals

• Herbs such as licorice, ashwagandha, maca and Siberian ginseng support the HPA axis
• Ashwagandha helps to normalize many of the biological changes brought about by stress
• Licorice helps to counteract cortisol’s immunosuppressive effects
• Nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc, magnesium and manganese support adrenal function
• B vitamins support adrenal hormone production
• Vitamin A helps normalize cortisol levels in conditions of abnormal secretion
• Vitamins A, C, and E help to modulate the HPA axis and stress response

The benefits of managing your stress response and providing targeted nutrition for your cells will be reflected in healthier, stronger and more attractive hair, skin and nails.

Read Part 1 and Part 2

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